AN INTERVIEW WITH CRYSTAL BELCHER

Posted on 17 May 2016

Crystal is wearing Midsummer Night Halter Top and Pole Short by Artista Active Wear.  Crown and Arm Cuff by Vann Waters Design.  Image by Solight Photography.

Dynamic. Captivating. Enchanting. Those are just a few words that come to mind when we think of Crystal “CryStylez” Belcher. A Houston, Texas native, Crystal is a familiar face to many. She holds several competition titles, including her most recent win at the 2015 Paragon Latin American Championships and her 3rd place finish at Paragon International in Australia, and is also an ambassador for Artista Active Wear and Black Girls Pole. She teaches and performs all over the country. When she's not busy competing or instructing, you can usually catch her hosting and promoting competitions and expos. She is the creator of Melee on the Bayou, and is truly passionate about the artistry and athleticism behind pole dancing. We sat down with Crystal to find out more about her own pole journey and her involvement in the industry.

Kayra: Let’s start with the basics— how long have you been involved in this industry? When did you take your first pole class and what got you hooked? What were you doing prior to your pole career?

Crystal: My first pole class was December 1, 2009 and it was the best decision I ever made! I was intrigued, visually, and happily challenged, physically. It provided a space of athleticism that captivated my imagination and allowed me to dance again. There was something about it that explored my strengths and weaknesses, and honed my feminine qualities. Before I found pole, I was working promotions at a major radio broadcast company and bartending.

Kayra: What pole-related accomplishment are you most proud of?

Crystal: Choosing art over money/titles. My 2013 USNPC piece was a pivotal moment for me in artistry and brand. It challenged the perspective of pole performances to viewing audiences and encouraged athletes to create stories and movement that would satisfy the needs and desires of the artist. It's a piece that reaches beyond the pole studios and into classrooms, workplaces, and any place of debate and fellowship. The content remains relevant, the movement was simplistic, and the detail in emotion and storytelling was breathtaking. I am still very proud of it and hope to keep making pieces that touch others and leave a lasting impression.

Kayra: Tell us more about Melee on the Bayou. What made you create this competition? How intense is the behind-the-scenes planning process?

Crystal: Melee on the Bayou is Houston's premier and longest-running pole dance competition, recently celebrating it's 5th year in production. We're a grassroots event with up to 40 performances on pole, floor, chair, and in groups. We invite world-renowned pole artists to judge and perform, and we also invite well-known professionals in entertainment to balance our judging panel. It's a show meant to celebrate the many self-taught and studio-trained students, instructors and owners of the Houston metro, and, most recently, the U.S. at large.  

I began this event because many of our local studios are unable to provide a platform for their clients and staff to perform on a stage to a welcoming crowd. It's a means to help grow and highlight the many small businesses in the Houston metro and beyond who encourage healthy and active lifestyles. I have been competing for a little over 5 years now and I have become an ambassador of sorts for those men and women in the city who inquire about competing on a local, national, or international level. This show gives them a chance to see if they are ready to compete beyond the Melee through disciplined training, costuming, and critiques.

It's not necessarily a hard task to put a show on, but the many parts needed to execute it can be very overwhelming. Promoting, marketing, asking for sponsorship and donations, booking venue and talent, admissions, budgeting, audio and visuals, etc., are just a few of the things needed to make such a big little show happen each year.

This production only moves so well because I have a magnificent circle of helpers. Because I like to do a lot, the hardest issue for me was allowing my staff to take on all the tasks that they excel in on an everyday basis. Once I allowed that to happen, I could troubleshoot with ease, take care of my performers, and uphold the vision of the show. My volunteers mainly consist of family, friends, clients, and former competitors. With them knowing how past shows have gone, they can also alleviate many of the issues our show could potentially have. They can answer questions to any party in the building and get things done efficiently and effectively. The key is to plan as well in advance as possible and ask for help. We intend to keep growing and hopefully we'll be able to continue to make this a mainstay event for the Houston area each fall! 

Kayra: It’s no secret that Texas as a whole has a very impressive pole scene, from studios to athletes to companies. Why do you think that is?

Crystal: Because the stars shine bright, deep in the heart of Texas! No, but really... Texas has a wealth of jewels that makeup the faces of our many studios. We, like any other major city and state, intend to create magnificent athletes and artists for the stage, but more so confident and healthy clients who choose life over laziness. Texans want to continue to make magical moments in and out of the studio, and encourage our residents to become pole, dance, and fitness idols in their own rights.  

Kayra: One of these Texas based companies that came to mind is Artista Active Wear. Can you tell us about your role as a brand ambassador? What are some of your favorite things about the brand?

Crystal: It was so exciting and humbling to be invited and welcomed as an ambassador for Artista Active Wear. It's a home-grown business that seeks to adorn EVERY fitness enthusiast in fun, functional, and complementary pieces. They are hand crafted with love and admiration. I have competed in two custom pieces made by AAW and they have been adored by international artists and audiences in construction and pattern. Megan Weinzierl, the owner and head designer, has an uncanny ability to capture your vision, and she provides a quick turnaround time. She's a visionary, but even greater, a student of her craft. Her desire to construct pieces for all sizes and genders just shows how inclusive and eclectic she aims to be. As an ambassador, I simply share the love that I feel in each piece with onlookers, studios, and students. Not only do I share a good word, I perform and train in my pieces so they are able to see how well the apparel moves with me and on me. I also get to offer discounts as a thank you to future buyers, which makes me super excited for them to find their own signature pieces!

Kayra: Do you have any advice for new polers? What about seasoned pros?

Crystal: For new polers, it's a beautiful journey; take your time and appreciate the little things. Don't be consumed by moving so fast that you forget why you fell in love with the sport. There's magic in your mistakes and even more beauty in the beginnings. Love the time you take in finding your voice and learning to use your new body and strengths! For seasoned pros, continue to fight for longevity and recognition through ground breaking movement, impeccable instruction, and captivating voices. Remember that our work is bigger than the next hottest pole trick or trend. Our pole influence can provide an opportunity to build bridges among humanity, much like making music and dancing. And lastly, ALL of our voices are not only needed, they are important!

Kayra: Outside of Artista, what are some of your other favorite pole brands?

Crystal: I love Pleaser Shoes!   

Kayra: People are dying to know— what’s your guilty pleasure when it comes to food?

Crystal: Whatever my stomach desires! It tends to switch every month or season. But I am a super fan of candied pecans, dark chocolate, chopped beef loaded baked potatoes, bacon cheeseburgers, Biscoff cookies, Buc-cee's beaver nuggets and red licorice, and ice cream to name a few.

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Kaylee Cruz, also known by her real name Kayra, is a Brand Ambassador and Social Media Manager for Artista Active Wear. Currently residing in Columbus, Georgia, she is a Pole Instructor at The Up Factory, a Junior Athlete and Social Media Manager for Mighty Grip, a writer for Bombshell Pole Magazine, an amateur pole competitor, and an avid volunteer at various pole events.

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